Gotham Gazette

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The New York City Council And War

Last week, the City Council debated and passed Resolution 549-A calling on the United States to go to war with Iraq only as a last resort. The council, which usually votes unanimously, was divided - the measure passed with 30 "yes" and 18 "no" votes. (For a list of how each council member voted, click here.)

It is not unusual for the City Council to delve into foreign affairs. In the last year, the City Council has introduced over 600 resolutions - including calling on the United States Navy to stop test bombing in Vieques, urging an "even-handed policy in the Middle East," condemning "terrorist attacks against civilians in Israel," and giving official recognition of Filipino-American World War II veterans. (Read the article "New York's Foreign Policy" for why city officials think globally when they legislate locally.)

However, it is unusual for the City Council to spend so much time debating an issue, particularly one that is out of its control. Decisions of whether to cut recycling programs, ban smoking in public places, or raise the property taxes did not generate anywhere near such heated public debate.

Some council members argued that the council should instead focus on local issues like the fiscal crisis, education, and housing. "We have spent more time and more energy, both publicly and privately, on this issue than we did on the property tax vote," said Councilmember James Oddo.

But others argued that because New York City is an international city - home to the United Nations, the media, and millions of recent immigrants, that foreign affairs is a local issue. "Whether we like it or not - and most of us do like it - we live in the capital of the world," said Councilmember Phil Reed.

And for some, the location of City Hall just blocks from Ground Zero, made the debate not only relevant, but personal. "I don't want to be back here in six months, naming streets for dead New Yorkers because our country did nothing," said Councilmember Lewis Fidler.

Here are some excerpts from the City Council debate.


"WORK FOR PEACE" - Bill Perkins (Primary sponsor of the bill)

...On April 4, thirty-six years ago Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made an historic speech right here in New York at Riverside Church deploring the war in Vietnam. King's sentiment at that time was that the war abroad was crippling our domestic agenda and could not be more salient than what is going on with us today.

With our local and national economy in peril, a war in Iraq will drain urgently needed resources from our cities, our suburbs, and our small towns. We can not afford to engage in such costly diversions. Not to mention the recent polls reflecting enormous concern on the part of New Yorkers for new acts of terrorism if the war begins with Iraq. And there is the human cost of war. I know that I am not alone when I pray that our troops will not be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. Let us not forget that those who declare war are usually not those who have to fight it...



...We know that in any war innocent men, women, and innocent civilians die. But we have to remember why we are here.

Iraq and Saddam Hussein violated the terms of a peace resolution that was necessitated because they invaded a sovereign neighbor. And during the course of that invasion, they launched missiles at a sovereign neighbor with whom they were not at war. They have gassed and oppressed minorities in their own country. Not to mention how they treat their women. They have given support and assistance to the exportation of terrorism around the world. And in all probability are sitting on a stockpile of dangerous nuclear, chemical, and germ weapons.

History reminds of what happens when the world does nothing, when a madman and imperialist rolls his tanks into a neighboring country. I am sure that Prime Minister Tony Blair, for whom I have the greatest respect, won't make the mistake Neville Chamberlain made in thinking that appeasement was necessarily buying peace in our time. And I am certainly not going to wait for Jacque Chirac's permission to defend myself.

We are sitting today in what should be the shadows of the World Trade Center. I don't want to be back here in six months, naming streets for dead New Yorkers because our country did nothing.



...I am no bleeding-heart liberal. I am a former U.S. Marine Corp grunt, front-line trooper. That means the ones who actually do the fighting. My godson and my nephew are in the Gulf right now awaiting the call to war.

...I am not against all war. World War II was a just war. The battle to find Bin Laden is a just battle. But I am reminded of what Congressman Charles Rangel said a couple of days ago - that we need a draft to give the opportunity to defend our country to all of the American people. Not just the working class and the poor stiffs who have to get out there, but all American people.

...I am kind of nervous when the war hawks (or are they chicken hawks?) have other people's children go forward. I will be more convinced of this when our federal officials - those who beat the drums of war the loudest - have their children sign up first...



...I am opposed to this resolution on the merits and because of the process.

My opposition on the merits can be summed up best in the words of Winston Churchill when he said, "An appeaser is someone who feeds the crocodile hoping it will eat him last."

I am opposed to the process because we are the City Council, not the Security Council... I have said time and time again that I think this body spends way too much time on issues outside of our immediate jurisdiction. I think we need to shed the criticisms of this body. We should not be focusing on street name changes and we should not be focusing on things outside of what our constituents elected us to do.

We have an incredible fiscal situation in this city, we have a high unemployment rate, we have welfare, and we have an education system that is being revolutionized. We have spent more time and more energy, both publicly and privately, on this issue than we did on the property tax vote. Those are the issues we were elected to talk about, not foreign affairs...



...This is not an anti-war or a pro-war resolution. It is a resolution that says killing people should always be a last resort... It councils a middle course, a proper course, a course that both rejects Saddam Hussein and says give peace a chance whenever a chance remains...



...Our first line of defense - not just our Army, our Navy and our Air Force - but our local first line - police, fire, and emergency medical services must be taken care of first. Before we go off to other nations to liberate their people, New York City is not prepared for its next terrorist attack. If we are not safe on Wall Street, we are not safe on Main Street.

...If we are going to be looking for a fight, let's fight poverty here in New York City. Let's fight firehouse closures here in New York City. Let's fight racism and sexism. Mr. Bush, get your house in order before you go and burn down someone else's...



...City Council resolutions are meant to project "a sense of the body." It makes no sense for the City Council to involve itself in international resolutions that have no real impact. No matter what the issue - these resolutions should be abolished...


"STAND BY BUSH" - Allan Jennings

...I want you to know that right now in Kuwait City, there is a camp called Camp New York, where men and women in uniform are there fighting for our freedom and for our democracy. We should stand behind our troops. As leaders and elected officials, we must stand behind our President as good Americans...


"THE TIME IS NOT NOW" - Gifford Miller

...I will not surrender to any country or to anyone outside of this country our right to determine our own foreign policy. But neither will I surrender my responsibility as an American citizen, as an elected official to speak out about what I think is the right conduct for our country. And I certainly won't surrender my responsibility to think strategically about this subject...


"SUPPORT OUR TROOPS" - Michael Mcmahon

...As nearly 300,000 American service men and women sit in the very real dangers of a theater of war, I do not believe that the New York City Council should be conducting national security policy.

...You can hear it in the debate this afternoon, we are not even sure what the message of this resolution is. But I am sure that the men and women in uniform that sit in harms way will only see it in one way...


"NYC IS AT RISK" - Helen Sears

...Three months ago, I would have voted for this resolution. Not because the U.S. should not use its military if called for, but because the case for war had not yet been made. I have discussed this issue with my colleagues in past weeks. I have come to the conclusion that the case has been made. New York City, as the world's premier international city, is at great risk...



...Just blocks from the Ground Zero, we debate whether we have the ability to defend ourselves from terrorists and we debate the financial costs of a war. What is the cost of 3,000 lives? In the next attack, when we lose 10,000 people, will that justify the cost?

New York City was attacked by terrorists. Saddam Hussein supports terrorists. He is a terrorist. He has weapons of mass destruction. He has used them on his own people. The risks of inaction are too great. If we don't disarm Saddam now, we won't have enough streets to name after the victims.


"DON'T USE 9/11 AS AN EXCUSE" - Charles Barron

...We are sending a message to the president today, at least I am, I'm not going to speak for everybody, that you can no longer use 9/11 as an excuse for war. There is no linkage of Saddam Hussein to 9/11. There is no linkage of Saddam Hussein to Al Aqaeda...


"GO TO GROUND ZERO" - Andrew Lanza

...I suggest that you take a walk down the street and take a long, hard look at that gaping hole in the ground, at that gaping hole in our lives...



...Whether we like it or not - and most of us do like it - we live in the capital of the world. And the challenge for us is to balance the democracy that our constituents ask for as well as to be a representational body as an experiment that proves to the world that democracy works...


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